The decisions we make

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)

(Commencement Speech: Philippine High School for the Arts 201)

Fr. Carmelo Caluag (executive director), Dr. Raul Sunico (chairman of the Advisory Council), members of the Advisory Council, Deputy Director Edith Mojica, distinguished master teachers, faculty and staff, freshmen, sophomore and junior students, parents, Aling Maria, Ibarangs and the graduating class:

First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude for your invitation to speak before this graduating class of budding artists on this momentous occasion.

The end of high school is an important bridge you have crossed. Anyone who graduates from high school must make an important choice about what to do next. In fact, most of the choices you will make now will have repercussions on the rest of your life. They will affect not only you and your loved ones, but also the rest of the world. Yes, that’s how serious it is to make a choice.

As an artist, I have much to tell you about what kind of life to expect. But what I will tell you today will address not only the artist in you, but more importantly, your innate humanity and idealism, whether or not you decide to pursue the arts.

I look at you and I remember how I felt when I graduated from high school. I was so idealistic, and so very confused. It was clear to me where my idealism was coming from. I was born with it. It was God’s birthday present to me when I became human. Idealism is natural to all of us.

My idealism was nurtured by a few great adults who inspired me to believe that it was an important value. I count among them my parents, a few of my teachers and some public persons who have led exemplary lives and showed the world what one can be capable of, especially against the odds.

As a young man, I had great dreams. I wanted to make my mark on this world. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to create beauty and art, right wrongs, solve the problems of mankind, help people, write original music and share my songs with everyone. I’m sure many of you resonate with this.

But like I said, what stood in the way was my confused, hilo state. My confusion as a young man came from my deep self-doubt. I doubted my talents and capabilities. I was insecure, lacking in self-esteem, afraid of many things and had not yet become articulate enough to express myself. As I looked at myself then, I often asked how this incomplete person I saw would be able to do what he wanted to do. I could not see how the world would listen, much less have any use, for someone as mixed up as I was.

Are you still resonating with this?

The biggest source of my confusion came from the world itself. I saw that the way it operated was totally different from how things ought to be. I saw evil and wrongdoing. I saw mediocrity and dishonesty among those who claimed to lead us. I met with disappointments and trials that seemed so big and insurmountable then. I saw people my age slowly lose themselves to drugs and become emotional cripples due to addiction. And I saw many people leave their dreams behind, opting to be “realistic and practical.”

I was thankful that I had an inquisitive mind and was constantly fascinated by many things. Soon enough, I began to figure out how things worked, and I started to understand life to a workable degree. Having girlfriends earned me some confidence in my understanding of the opposite sex, people in general, the world and myself.

But learning to play the guitar and going into music gave me a parallel language to express my innermost feelings in not-so-awkward terms. Music was a world that made a lot of sense and it kept me sane and out of trouble. It gave me solace in my confusion.

Looking back now, all that teenage angst was an integral part of growing up. The confusion was like dust in a house that was being constructed. It blocked a great part of the view, but to be sure, the foundations were being built.

Today, I imagine that many of you are probably in the same place I was more than 40 years ago. When I graduated from high school at 17, as I stood between the earth and sky, between my ideals and the so-called “real world,” I asked myself how I would survive if and when these two came to a head.

From the vantage point of one who has lived as long as I have, let me tell you this: you will face similar tests. Your ideals and the so-called real world will come to a head — many, many times. It is a constant battle between what you believe in and the call to be “realistic,” to not rock the boat, or at least to not go against how the world works. For the sake of outer harmony, you will be asked to give up your inner harmony.

And indeed, some of your ideals will give way to practicality, and surrender to the ways of the world. “That’s just how it is,” you will hear yourself say, as you try to make yourself feel better. And you will feel better because some of your ideals are actually sheer naiveté and rigidness masking as ideals. And they are there to be given up as payment — for you to gain wisdom as you navigate through life.

But there will be dreams that you must fight to keep to the end, even if, truth to tell, they may seem like airy, pie-in-the-sky concoctions of someone so inexperienced. But they are your dreams and you must care for them, refine and redefine them and make them flesh.

Holding on to them and taking the steps to bring these dreams to life is important because they will ultimately be your life’s passion and purpose. And, take note, you are the only one — no one else — who can bring them to life. While wise counsel from the experienced is important to heed, know that no one else can live your life better than you.

I knew at that moment when I graduated from high school that I wanted to sing and write music. I wanted to express my artistry to the world. Sometimes, the thought of it preoccupied me 24/7. Even now, after 41 years of doing concerts and writing and recording many albums, singing and writing music are still of utmost importance to me.

One of my favorite writers, Joseph Campbell, says that every life is a hero’s journey. And the right path is to follow your bliss. He says that when we do so, the universe will open doors where there were only walls.

But following your bliss, while seemingly easy, is fraught with difficulty. It involves choices that seem crazy from the practical point of view, like choosing a college path that will theoretically make you more money, even if your heart is not in it, over the one that is iffy, money-wise, but makes you alive and arouses your passion. It could be a choice between an exciting but unsure future over an imposed, overly planned but boring “career.”

No one can guarantee that you will succeed with either choice. But trust your heart to know which one will give you a better chance at happiness and fulfillment.

And as you make these choices, know that there is no “sure” thing in life. Your life is a book with blank pages, an empty canvas, a blank sheet of music, a bare theater stage, a digital camera waiting for content.

The hero’s journey always begins with the hero being kicked out of his comfort zone, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and Frodo in Lord of the Rings. From there, you are asked to shape your adventure out of the clay that is life. There will be false starts, and there will be failure. But with the right attitude, as Campbell puts it, “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

Whatever the choices you make, I wish you the best. I know it is scary to make choices, but we must make them. One way I have learned to deal with the unknown is to remind myself that every single day I have lived has never been lived before and was, in fact, unknown to me until I lived it. At the end of each day, I am amazed at how easily I handled it. In fact, everything I know today, I did not know before.

Today, I know that the unknown is just another “me” I have not met. And I try and embrace it, whatever it is.

Here is another important thought I would like to impart to you on this day. Just as a dreamer must look at the stars, he must also stand on solid ground.

Bilang mga ‘iskolar ng bayan’ na pinagpala ng tadhana at napadala dito sa mahusay na paaralang ito, ang mga desisyon na inyong gagawin pagkatapos ng kolehiyo, ano pa man ang kurso matapos niyo, ay sana may kahulugan di lamang para sa inyong buhay. Lagi niyo sanang alalahanin na ang Bayang Pilipinas ang sumagot ng gastos sa inyong pag-aaral dito. Umaasa ako na habang kayo ay naghahabol ng inyong mga ambisyong pansarili, kayo ay magiging magaling, malikhaing, marangal at mabubuting Pilipino na mag-aalay ng tagumpay at karangalan para sa ating bayan. Yan ang inyong magiging sapat na kabayaran sa pagkakataong ibinigay sa inyo ng Inang Pilipinas.

I would like to leave you with something I picked up from the American nature writer, John Burroughs, that has become my mantra. He wrote: “Jump, and the net will appear.” I can almost hear you asking anxiously, “But what if it doesn’t?” If it doesn’t, there are three possibilities: You could get hurt and die, or you could come out of it uninjured because the fall wasn’t so steep. But the chances are you will discover that you had wings all along.

Go then, fly, soar and pursue your dreams.

Congratulations and thank you for this great honor of addressing our artists and leaders of the future.

* * *

1) Photo Workshop in Dumaguete on April 9. Call Chinky at 0916-4305626.

2.) Photo Workshop in Manila on April 16. Please call Olie at 0916-8554303 for all workshop inquiries.

Check for details.

3.) Creative For Life Workshop in Cebu on April 30. Details to follow. Please call Shirley at 0917-6207424.

4.) Performance Enhancement Workshop in Cebu on May 2. Please call Shirley at 0917-6207424.

5.) Creative For Life Workshop in Manila on May 14.

Please call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 4265375 for all workshop inquiries. Or write me at Check for details.

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Joel Olave
9 years ago

Very inspiring address… good job mr Jim!

9 years ago

it’s never too late. i’m done with 2 degrees from 2 great universities but i feel like a fresh high school grad reading this. very resonating. hehe! thank you for this, sir jim.